By Fathol Zaman Bukhari
The allure of easy money caused by former Prime Minister Najib Razak’s “Cash is King” mantra came into focus and ridicule in the run-up to the 14th General Election.
In all his speeches prior to the election, Dr Mahathir never failed to mention Najib’s propensity to dish out cold hard cash to the rakyat. “Cash is King,” said Najib when Mahathir asked him why he was giving out cash handouts, in so many forms, so freely.
His intended message to his listeners was that the then Prime Minister was using this tactic to “buy” votes. The recipients will be grateful to the man who dishes out cash. Whether those receiving it deserved it or not, did not matter, everyone wanted money and most care less where it comes from.
Money and power worked like a firewall around Najib and his cohorts. They were under the illusion that cash was indeed king, as they unabashedly went about looting the nation’s coffers without an iota of guilt.
It has been established, during Najib’s ongoing corruption trial involving the alleged siphoning of funds from SRC International Sdn Bhd that money was freely distributed to acquire political support, patronage and reverence, among others.
Mahathir’s assertion was direct and simple. He insisted that it was the rakyat’s money that was being given out, and the campaign strategy worked. It showed that anti-corruption is an easy sell and proved that most Malaysian voters, on the whole, did care about ethics and corruption was one.
It is a fact that many of the beneficiaries of Najib’s largesse had voted against Barisan Nasional while some became turncoats shamelessly, leaving the flagging party. It is like mice abandoning a sinking ship in mid-stream.
But one year after dismantling the “Cash is King” gobbledygook, it somehow appears to make a comeback to bite Tun Mahathir and the Pakatan Harapan leadership. The new mantra in Malaysia Baru (New Malaysia) today is that they don’t seem to have enough money all the time.
True, the cost of living never came down even after the abolition of the GST (Goods and Services Tax), but it did lower shopping bills in places like hypermarkets as there was no SST (Sales and Services Tax) levied at such outlets.
RON 95, the preferred fuel of most motorists, is capped at RM2.08 a litre. This is about 40 sen lower than the actual price would have been if the old managed float system, based on global crude oil prices, was used.
This may sound incomprehensible for the average Malaysian, right? Do they appreciate the benefits they are gaining as a result of several new policies and taxes? Nope! Malaysians, unfortunately, are not prepared to ask what they can do for the country. The only question in their mind is what the country must do for them. This selfish attitude does not bode well for us.
Most people I have spoken to have only this to say: Nothing has come down. All prices have remained the same while some have only gone up. Pakatan Harapan has not fulfilled its manifesto and its campaign promises.
Strangely enough, those providing certain home services like courier and telecommunication openly claim that times were better under Barisan Nasional as they had more money to spend.
“It’s difficult now, we’ve less money to spend compared to last time when BN was in power. Pakatan Harapan is not keeping its promises,” said the security guy in my ‘taman’ when he came to collect his monthly fee.
I tend to take surveys by certain bodies, especially Merdeka Centre, with a pinch of salt as the respondents do not necessarily reflect the general feelings on the ground. I feel better to speak with people on the streets in order to gauge their feelings.
What I notice is that while people may be a little sympathetic when I tell them they have to give PH extra time due to prevailing circumstances, generally, they are unhappy.
The reason for their unhappiness is the lack of cash. They are receiving less money from the government today compared to previous, notwithstanding the fact that what they were enjoying in the past was stolen or borrowed money.
This group of people don’t seem to be outraged at past leaders who had abused their positions to rob the nation’s coffers, a fact which has emerged or is being exposed in many key institutions.
They claim that the BR1M (Bantuan Rakyat 1Malaysia) payments are much lower now. Many recipients have also been removed from the list as they do not qualify under the minimum household income requirement. What is wrong with that? Why do you want money you don’t deserve?
Bantuan Sara Hidup (BSH, as BR1M is now called) has been reduced by RM200 to RM1000 but PH has made sure that only needy Malaysians get such welfare aid. It had been greatly abused in the past.
Malaysia has thrived because of a culture of opportunity that encourages hard work in the private sector. Of course, the social re-engineering policy, which was aimed at giving a headstart to sons of the soil (bumiputras) played a role.
But this should not go on forever, the number must reduce eventually as those benefiting should finally be able to help their families to overcome this dependency.
The growth of this form of welfare state funded by projected or borrowed income – or worse still, by funds siphoned from government coffers – is turning Malaysia into a land where many expect, and consider it perfectly okay to recieve money from political leaders.
I find this a dangerous trend when undeserving Malaysians sit back idly and wait for these cash handouts as an entitlement instead of a privilege. And what’s more distressing is to see politicians feeding this cancer as a way of remaining in power.
Cash is not king when it is stolen from others or from public funds placed under your trust. That is stealing, pure and simple.
To better illustrate the extent of the disease allow me to allude to an incident of which I was a party. While waiting to be treated at the army hospital in Wangsa Maju recently, a fellow patient bemoaned the depleting amount of ‘duit raya’ he gets when attending buka puasa at the Ministry of Defence mosque. “Those years when Hishamuddin was defence minister he would give us RM200 each as duit raya. Now Mat Sabu, the new minister, hardly gives us anything,” he lamented.